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The 411 on Using Headhunters in your Job Search

Posted by Elaine Varelas  May 8, 2013 10:00 AM

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Q. If I am using a Headhunter to search for a job, what do I owe them in terms of exclusivity? How do I ethically work with two or more headhunters? Thanks.

A. First, unlike a romantic relationship, there is no exclusivity with a headhunter or recruiter and you aren't cheating on them if you select to see another one on the side. That should help put aside any guilty conscience or ethical dilemmas you are struggling with. However, there are some important considerations to make when working with recruiters, including how many you should be aligned with at any one time.

You need to be clear on what type of recruiter is right for your job search. Executive or retained search firms are paid up front by companies to fill a very specific role. If you are in a senior role, you should make contact with many retained search firms that specialize in your industry and role; there is no overlap with retained search firms trying to fill the same positions.

Contingency search firms are paid by the company after they fill the position and a few firms may be working to fill the same job at the same time. In general, it is expected that a job seeker will work with multiple recruitment firms. Partnering with only one limits the scope of your job search and puts too much emphasis on just one source. Just like you wouldn't respond to only one job posting, you shouldn't put all your eggs into one recruitment basket. On the flip side, by engaging with a plethora of different headhunters, you run the risk of them not taking your search seriously. Going back to the dating analogy, you will get more attention from someone who knows you are committed to them, even if it's not exclusively. I generally advise candidates to have two or three trusted recruiters in their job search circle.

According to Dave Sanford, EVP of Client Services for WinterWyman, a search and contract staffing firm headquartered in Waltham, “More importantly than the number of recruiters helping with your search, though, is the relationship you have with them. No matter if you are working with one headhunter or two, you want to be partners with them.” You have to trust in their ability to listen to you, learn about you, guide you and be truthful (whether good or bad). Seek out someone who is honest, open and well-connected. Ask if they can help you. If they tell you they can not help in your search, appreciate the honest response and look for other recruiting firms who can. Continuing to call or Email a recruiter who can not assist in your job search efforts will only frustrate you and it won’t change their response.

Finally, if your expectations aren't being met, don't be afraid to change partners mid-dance if you aren't seeing the results you are looking for.

This blog is not written or edited by or the Boston Globe.
The author is solely responsible for the content.

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Meet the Jobs Docs

Patricia Hunt Sinacole is president of First Beacon Group LLC, a human resources consulting firm in Hopkinton. She works with clients across many industries including technology, biotech and medical devices, financial services, and healthcare, and has over 20 years of human resources experience.

Elaine Varelas is managing partner at Keystone Partners, a career management firm in Boston and serves on the board of Career Partners International.

Cindy Atoji Keene is a freelance journalist with more than 25 years experience. E-mail her directly here.

Peter Post is the author of "The Etiquette Advantage in Business." Email questions about business etiquette to him directly here.

Stu Coleman, a partner and general manager at WinterWyman, manages the firm's Financial Contracting division, and provides strategic staffing services to Boston-area organizations needing Accounting and Finance workforce solutions and contract talent.

Tracy Cashman is Senior Vice President and Partner of the Information Technology search division at WinterWyman. She has 20 years of experience partnering with clients in the Boston area to conduct technology searches in a wide variety of industries and technology.

Paul Hellman is the founder of Express Potential, which specializes in executive communication skills. He consults and speaks internationally on how to capture attention & influence others. Email him directly here.